Good Training – Survival Part 2

Date point: 14y 7d AV
Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm
Later that day

Julian Etsicitty

It was approaching mid-day and the day’s morning work had been taken care of. The scouts had come back and reported that the nearby werne had just calved and would need to be left alone for a time, which was an expected albeit slightly annoying development. Once they had calved, the men would need to drive them off so that a healthier, more mature herd would take their place and keep their tribe’s private hunting grounds properly sustainable.

In the meantime they would need to rely on two shared hunting grounds with five nearby tribes. That needed a bit of diplomacy, since the other tribes had similar problems—it was mid-summer and their own herds would be suffering depletion as well. They in turn would need to rely on other shared hunting grounds, some shared with Yan’s tribe and some shared with others…

It was a big, confusing patchwork of alliances, built on friendship, traded daughters, and occasionally adopted sons when the men of a tribe had begun to age. It was no wonder the Given-Men were generally patient people with a white-hot anger lurking underneath.

…And that was also probably why they were so goddamned strong, too. The life of a Given-Man seemed to be one of endless travel between tribes, and that meant they always had to feed themselves, by themselves. On a world like Akyawentuo, only the Given-Men truly had the strength, toughness, and innate aggression to live alone in the wild and thrive.

And lately so did Julian. Admittedly he relied much more on his tools, his wits and his unique experience than the Ten’Gewek could, but even that wasn’t enough to get him all the way there. He’d had to grow hugely strong to hunt alone in the Akyawentuo bush. That said something important about the world: it was demanding. By Julian’s reckoning it deserved its initial rating of a very high-end class twelve, not that the rating really meant anything—it was a bureaucratic, inflexible and relentlessly stupid way to try and measure the unmeasurable. But still, Akyawentuo was impressive and frankly there just weren’t many species out there that could physically survive it alone. The Ten’Gewek could obviously, along with fit humans and a handful of well-bred elite Gaoians. For anyone else, Akyawentuo was truly a Deathworld.

So much so in fact, that pretty much the only other human alive with both the skills and the strength of body and mind to actually survive it alone and unafraid was Walsh, and both men knew it. If Julian was being honest with himself, quietly when nobody was around…knowing that about himself felt good.

But on the other hand, that presented a pretty serious problem. Through a combination of fate, lucky timing, and lots of hard work, Julian and Walsh were unique assets as the military folks liked to say, and making more fellas like them in any reasonable amount of time would be a hell of a party trick. They were unique enough that Walsh had been dithering on if he wanted to go back and join the HEAT, or stay with Julian and stick it out; not that he got to make that choice, he’d go where he was ordered to be. But still, his words had weight. So did Julian’s these days, and if he asked Walsh’s superiors for him to stay he’d likely be ordered to do so. That was…a power Julian wasn’t exactly comfortable with.

So. Julian had a duty to stay. He’d been saddled with an informal appointment as an “envoy,” which apparently was going to become a formal appointment someday once everyone got their heads outta their asses. Not that it meant all that much, really, but where the Ten’Gewek were concerned, for certain (very limited, spelled out in agonizing detail) situations, Julian spoke with the Ambassador’s authority.

That bothered him too. But that was how it was gonna be since most diplomats couldn’t skin a deer, hike twenty miles, or bench press…well, anything, really.

At least Ambassador Rockefeller was cool about everything. That helped but it didn’t change the pressing weight of duty. Julian had never asked for it, never sought it out, but he had it whether he wanted it or not. Not that he would walk away; the People needed him.

Which…fuck. He’d just have to do the best he could.

Julian and Yan had left just after morning prayer, with Yan either knuckle-walking alongside or swinging between the trees if he was feeling froggy. They had gone to pay a visit to the nearby village where Arsh Given-Man lived and it was a pleasant enough stroll. Yan had a self-deprecating sense of humor in private, which was…a pleasant surprise! He told Julian about several amorously unsuccessful encounters as a younger man and their fallout, with the solemn promise that Julian would keep them secret. They were amusing and none of them could be said to have ended in glory, so Julian in turn shared stories about high school, and his Grandpa, and what he and his friends used to do. It was…nice.

They even paused to enjoy a watermelon-sized ripe fruit from a Forest-Father tree. Yan had tossed Julian almost three stories straight up so he could catch the branch, climb up and drop the fruit. The branch was too thin to support Yan’s weight and barely enough to take Julian, who was these days about as far from little as a man could naturally get…

So of course it snapped, and it was only his quick reactions and the wits to fling himself to a lower branch that saved his life, along with Yan’s lightning-fast footwork and a rough catch that kept Julian from a sprained ankle or cracked ribs. He escaped with a scuffed arm and ego but thankfully nothing more. Both men decided they wouldn’t tell anyone about it.

The melon-thing was tasty as hell, though. Totally worth it.

Things briefly got much more serious as they approached Arsh’s tribe. They were met by men with spears and bows who hooted angrily from the trees, high up and out of reach. Yan responded by rising up onto his rear legs and giving them the Look, the one that brooked no silliness or disobedience. Even up in the trees and perfectly safe, that was enough of a gesture to give the hunters pause; Julian noted they were definitely more respectful after that. Almost polite, even. In any case, Yan stomped and swaggered forward towards the front of the village, hooted to announce his presence, and was immediately confronted—loudly—by Arsh.

The two Given-Men met, made their displays, put on a violent but mostly-for-show bruiser of a fight, then hugged it out and talked—Yan won, of course, both the fight and the negotiation. But not right away, which Julian suspected was meant to let Arsh save face in front of his tribe. Julian meanwhile met with the villagers, played with the children while the two Given-Men hashed out the details…and then it was done, in less than twenty minutes. The Given-Men said kind words about each other and their tribes, Yan politely declined the Singer’s offer of a bed and her company for the evening, and together the two left to go inspect the hunting ground.

Three herds lived in the shared space between the tribes and Yan got first pick. There was an impromptu hunt. Julian finally got to see what Yan looked like in action while he stalked his prey alone. He was…impressive. He stayed downwind and moved in the shadows as slinky as a cat. He knew the area so well that even with his mind-bending mass, his every footfall on any thick branch or across the squelching, muddy ground was perfectly silent.

They eventually tracked on a small herd with a young bull at its head, maybe ten adults and twice as many calves. The bull was healthy and strong, bigger than a woods bison back on Earth, and it had no obvious scars along its pelt: a wily fighter. They were grazing on the fern-like things that grew everywhere and seemed to regrow overnight, and none of the adults had noticed either of the two approach. Julian raised his bow—a gift from Vemik, and very well-made—and tracked on a juvenile. It looked like it clocked in at maybe a bit over three hundred pounds or so, about the size of a full-grown goat, which was the biggest prey he dared Take on a hunt like this. It would be tiring as hell to carry but Julian knew he could manage, if barely; the Village was a few miles away and he’d need all his new strength.

Yan on the other hand was so absurdly far ahead in strength that he didn’t need his spear when he struck. He simply thumped down in front of the bull, let it charge while the herd vanished, then jumped clear over its head as it rushed forward and landed on top of its back. There was a loud, muffled crack and the animal collapsed to the ground, bleating in pain. Yan wasted no time and wrapped his limbs around the beast, gave a loud huff, and squeezed. Bones snapped, its breathing grew labored, and with every bellowed, weakening exhalation of the doomed werne, Yan just closed his limbs tighter and tighter while the animal moaned in obvious agony.

Julian was about to intervene when, with one last mighty heave and a sickening series of cracks, Yan crushed his prey so hard that he was able to get both his arms and legs locked around each other. Once he had that extra leverage he grunted, squeezed much harder…and smashed the damn thing flat from its hips to its ribs. Blood fountained out of the werne’s mouth as its heart was literally crushed inside its chest. It passed out, either dead or well on the way.

It took another minute of literal bone-crunching force to completely finish the job. By the time Yan had heaved himself to his feet, panting and with a pleased expression on his face, the werne looked like it had just been run over by a truck. Pretty much every one of its bones had been pulverized. Yan inspected his handiwork and grunted approval, reached down, braced his feet against the animal’s shattered shoulders, grabbed its head and ripped it right off its body with a tremendous wet tearing sound. He hefted the trophy above his head and let the blood rain down his torso, then gave an ear-shatteringly loud hoot to the sky, so that the gods and any People nearby would know that a man of the People had Taken a worthy prize.

Sometimes, it was good to have an unambiguous reminder of how savage the People truly were. Julian thumped down from his tree and asked, “Why not use your spear?” He stalked over to his werne—it was a juvenile male he took with an arrow through the base of its skull—and began cutting its head off.

Yan grunted and lightly tossed his bull’s massive head toward Julian, who was knocked off his feet by the sheer weight of it. [“Spear hunting is dangerous. You need to close with it when it charges and then shift to the side, but the werne might swipe you with its head. If he does he can tear your guts out. They can’t throw their head up, though. If you jump on their back, there’s almost nothing they can do.”]

That made sense. But still, [“And you didn’t use your knife, because…?”] Julian marked himself in its blood and set the bull’s head down, then clambored back to his feet.

The Given-Man grunt-snarled in an annoyed manner then looked at Julian, thought for a moment, and reconsidered. [“Didn’t need it. It’s best to give prey a worthy death if you can. It should have a chance to fight for its life. That’s the blessing of being a Given-Man. We can fight any prey on their own terms, and we can fight other hunters for the right to prey. I have even Taken a Brown One and lived.”] Yan immediately made a gesture of respect, a thing the People did for no other creature.

Julian nodded, though he didn’t entirely agree with the method. “Not that I could ever do that,” he said absentmindedly, to no-one in particular.

Yan tilted his head in genuine curiousity. [“Why not?”]

[“I’m not that strong.”] Julian shook himself and snapped back to the present. [“And I don’t think I ever will be. But on Earth we have several kinds of animal on my world that hunt that way.”]

Yan grunted. [“They don’t use knives either?”] Julian gave him a Look.

[“No. They…] constrict. [That means they squeeze their prey by wrapping ‘round it, and they just squeeze…and squeeze…and keep at it until the animal can’t breathe anymore. Then they swallow it whole and sit still for moons at a time.”]

[“Hum.”] Yan huffed. [“We have stories of creatures like that, I think. Singer could tell you more. They do not live here, they are far away.”]

Julian nodded and set to work on the heads. He cracked open the skull with his hatchet and stuffed the brains into a leather sack, then hung the skulls to drain. The brains would be used to tan leather but the rest would stink up the village, especially since the werne had recently calved. They would come back for the skulls later when the insects had picked them clean.

When he was done and ready to go, Julian got down on his haunches and hefted his werne across his shoulders with a grunt. Once he got it seated comfortably he turned to Yan, who was polishing off the last of his travel jerky.

“Those critters you mentioned,” Julian said, “You think maybe they lived near some of the places we showed you? Where there were different People?”

“Maybe. [We didn’t trade with them. Den’s tribe was closest, and he said their men were weak and broke too easy in a fight, and their women were very pretty. But they weren’t any fun, couldn’t Take it hard enough!”] Yan’s fang-filled snarl-grin was almost too cheesy for words.

Julian grinned back. [“Maybe his cock wasn’t good enough for them. Who knows?”]

Yan trilled in response, then worked his way under the werne and hoisted it onto his shoulders with about as much apparent effort as it might take Julian to pick up a sack of concrete. The bull absolutely dwarfed Yan in terms of bulk and it comically made Julian think of Mighty Mouse, carrying a house or something likewise silly overhead. By then…he wasn’t surprised.

The Ten’Gewek were…dense. Weighty and powerful, much more so than even their brutish appearance might at first suggest. Everything on Akyawentuo was physically robust, but when it came to sheer teak-hard toughness, nothing anywhere on any world was quite like the People. They would sink right to the bottom of a lake if they ever fell into one and they preferred to swing about in large, very sturdy trees. But even so, Yan’s absurd strength was still surprising. That bull for all its size was probably not much heavier than him; in fact he seemed more like he was made of living rock, and that he might be the weightier creature.

They walked back to the village mostly in silence, with only the occasional joke or story between them, since Julian was exerting himself enough that he could only handle brief conversations. Yan seemed to understand, yet he seemed completely untested by the task at hand and had a happy spring in his step. Upright movement was definitely slower no matter how easy it was for him, though, which let Julian amble along and save energy while Yan shuffled at a brisk pace, occasionally bouncing forward in that wide-legged, swaggering almost-waddle the brawnier men of the People often did while walking.

[“Next time, I show you with spear. You won’t be allowed to use your rifle on the hunt.”]

It took Julian a second to recall what Yan was talking about, then it snapped clear in his mind. Julian nodded and they walked for about an hour until they’d encountered the first sentry posted along the village’s territory. Yan sauntered back into camp with the massive bull still slung over his shoulders, not at all tired it seemed; he hardly seemed to remember he had a crushed bull on his back and only set it down once the man tending the village fire reminded him.

Juli an on the other hand was aching to drop his burden and did so immediately. Yan didn’t notice, he was bouncing about and happy to be home, and eager to socialize with the rest of the tribe. He was gregarious that way and wanted to check in with every couple, play with every kid, and check, re-check, play some more, and re-re-recheck the progress on the werne he brought back.

One of his regular squeezes eventually caught his hints and brought him some warm stew. The look of simple happiness on his face from such a small gesture was almost cloyingly sweet. [“Thank you!”] His tail reached up and tickled her face, which earned him the trilling equivalent of a flirtatious giggle and a urgent, whispered promise…. She bounced away with a decidedly meaningful sway of her hips and tail with Yan watching her all the while, a blissfully happy expression on his face.

He was just as bad as the HEAT fellas.

Julian flomped down on a nearby log and chuckled to himself. “You’re a terrible flirt, big guy.”

Yan nodded happily and sighed, and devoured his massive bowl of stew. Yan’s girlfriend for the day returned shortly with a smaller bowl for Julian, along with his metal spoon from his camp. He hadn’t needed to ask for either and the People wouldn’t have asked him anyway; tribal life could be a bit hive-mind like that. He nodded his thanks, and set to work.

And thought. Yan had decided Julian was ready for his Rite of Manhood, Walsh would be “soon,” and that had Julian a bit unsettled. The arduousness of it was concerning of course but he had grown confident he could handle it. It was the other stuff that had him worried, and for the last several days, too. It was time to get to the bottom of his worries.

“Torok looked like his body was on fire.”

Yan shrugged his vast shoulders and tilted his head to lick the last bits of gravy from his bowl. “Sometimes, what man See…hurt.”

The Given-Man rarely spared Julian the harsh truth of anything. Which normally he could appreciate, and in a deep way. This time though, he’d maybe have preferred something more…tactful.

Julian really didn’t want to take the Rite of Manhood.

…No. He did want to take it. What he didn’t want to do was the part at the end. Fast for a day, purify his body and soul, stalk and hunt a prize werne bull using nothing but a spear and a knife? Then bring back its head before the end of the day? That part, the actually dangerous part, was one he was almost excited to do.

And now he could. During the course of one of their recent play-bouts, Yan decided that Julian had grown strong enough that the big Given-Man had maybe needed to exert the tiniest, briefest possible flicker of effort to sufficiently quash the impudent upstart.

“You ready soon. Keep growing. Just need to learn.”

That was all he said, and all he needed to say. A ringing endorsement, indeed.

And that had been like a snowball down a hill once Julian had stated his interest. Allison and Xiù expressed reserved happiness, Yan had been delighted, Singer gave him a warm look, and Vemik had of course bounced around in circles, too excited to contain himself.

“The Sky-Hunter would become one of the People,” they had said. What would be needed? Did Julian need permission from the Ambassador? Julian technically answered to him for the strictly-defined purposes of fostering the American (and Allied) interests with the Ten’Gewek nation. What would Byron Group think? The AEC? They all had a stake in this, didn’t they? He wasn’t any kind of a lawyer but surely there were complications…

And all sorts of other things. Julian had sighed at the pile of problems, sent a message to Byron Group and the Ambassador to let them yell about it, then started mastering the specific skills he would need. He’d paid particular attention to how the People did things, too. It was theirs, after all, and like he’d said from the beginning, there was no point in doing a thing if it didn’t pay respect to the People and their gods.

Which was where Yan had him trapped.

“Seeing is Important, Jooyun.” The Given-Man had a patient air about him as if he’d had this very conversation many times before.

“I know,” Julian said. “I’m worried about the drug. It may not be safe for humans.”

“Not safe for [People], take anyway. Only strong man live…” Yan ducked his head and did the Ten’Gewek equivalent of a sheepish grin by way of a sideways snarl, “Maybe we be careful, only let strong boys try.”

Well, that was at least some kind of relief, that Yan thought Julian was strong enough now. But still: as much as he trusted and was fond of the ‘most biggest’ sapient gorilla-thing there was…he wasn’t exactly a medical expert on human toxicology.

Which was a good point to make, actually. “I know Yan. And…thank you. It’s been…a lot of work, to get strong enough to do this. But—”

“Is good!” Yan interrupted in his cheery, gruff way, then switched to People-speak. [“But your tribe isn’t weak, Jooyun. You’re just…different-strong. Very different and very strong. But it’s good you are doing this. Thank you. It makes things easier.”]

That it did. But still. [“Thank you for trusting me with this. But] Poison, Yan. Mind-altering drugs are dangerous, and they can affect different kinds of life—of People—very differently.”

“Explain.” Yan said it very carefully; that particular word always gave him trouble.

Julian had been preparing for that question. He’d done his research and come up with a perfect example.

“There is a sickness. We call it Cancer, and it’s nasty. The only way to kill it is to take poison. The poison is medicine when we use it the right way, because it kills the person slightly slower than it kills the sickness…but it has to be used carefully, given by people who really know the Giving-magic involved in a deep way. And if you were sick with cancer, they would say they don’t know enough about your body to give you the poison medicine safely. Your body is strong, but like you said it’s strong in different ways. What would be safe for me might kill you, or maybe do nothing at all.”

Yan’s heavy brow furrowed. Their faces generally weren’t quite as mobile as a human’s so they only showed feeling when that feeling was strong. [“So, you think maybe our magic powder will hurt you very bad? I mean, more than it’s meant to?”]

“…It might. Or it might not help me See at all. Or it might do exactly what it’s supposed to, or it might do something totally different. It’s…a branch we haven’t tested yet.”

Yan thought about that for a bit. In some ways he was very much like Adam from the HEAT: when he wanted to think, he wanted to be physical. In his case he solved that by walking up a Ketta and then walking along the underside of one of its major branches. He walked out until the branch started to creak, then hung there by one foot and thought, scratching his chin with one hand and his flexing, monstrous calf with his free foot.

He pondered for a long moment, happily swinging upside down and looking at everything with an amused expression. He was about to speak when he froze, then with a speed that simply defied belief, flung himself upward and snatched a Bibtaw foraging almost ten feet above the branch he was hanging from. He’d grabbed it with so much strength it had more or less exploded in his hand, which he acknowledged with an annoyed grunt and a few quick bites to the critter’s tastiest parts. He grinned bloody-mouthed at Julian, then leapt down and swung from his original branch by the tail.

“…still hungry, Yan?”

He responded with a hunter’s grin and messily devoured the rest of his prey, bones, organs, fur and all. “Always hungry for Bibtaw…”

“You usually roast it first.”

“Is good this way too!” His upside-down grin was literally dripping with blood.

“Right. Well.” Julian pressed onward. “You were going to say something?”

“…Yes.” Yan wiped his mouth clean with the back of his hand. “Smart to think first. Don’t just charge bull Werne without plan,” he said eventually, then switched back to People-Speak. [“But. The Vision is the most important part of this, Jooyun Sky-Hunter. Without the vision, you cannot learn what the gods want to teach you.”]

Julian nodded but remained deeply conflicted. He knew, academically, that he wouldn’t get out of this now that he’d shown enthusiasm for the prospect. But…he really took some things from the Church seriously, even if he wasn’t a very good believer. “My body is my temple” had struck a chord with him a long time ago. He’d watched too many of his friends on the rez and elsewhere die inside because of drugs or alcohol or whatever, so…

[“Some of the Singers of my tribe—or, the people in my tribe who do what Singers do—talk about purity a lot,”] he said. [“Being clean, in body, mind and soul. They taught me that drugs—magic powders and smoking leaf, things like that—are unclean.”]

Yan just looked baffled. [“How?”] He asked. [“They open your mind to the Gods!”]

“Some of them can. I guess. I’ve never taken anything more than that alcohol you’ve tried.”

“Pfeh.” Yan spat in the dirt. That had been his standard response to any mention of alcohol since his lone experience with it. Julian saw his opening and pounced.

[“Exactly. Alcohol wasn’t good for you. For me…Well.”] Time for a troll-grin, and a risky one. [“Allison and Xiù haven’t ever complained…”]

…And suddenly he had a ton of gorilla sitting on his hips. Smirking, at least. But still.

“Funny.” Yan’s tone said that it was a grudging kind of amusement, and he was definitely being sarcastic…but a shove into the dirt was Yan’s equivalent of ruffling somebody’s hair.

If only he wasn’t so goddamn heavy. Even keeping nearly all of his weight on the balls of his feet-hands, Yan was absolutely crushing Julian into the ground.

_“Hnnpf_…I’ll never stop being amazed at how fast you can move…And from the tree! Anyway.” Julian tried to wiggle free, but Yan wasn’t gonna let that happen just yet. “…No mercy, big guy?”

In response Yan grinned and settled a tiny bit more of his weight onto Julian. That hurt.


Julian sighed and gamely attempted to escape, and their encounter rapidly deteriorated into a wrestling match. Or, rather, Julian got wrestled by Yan. Calling it a match was maybe a bit of a lie because that would imply there was a possibility Yan might not be completely victorious. It was part of the game and in tribal settings it was important to play along; Yan was in charge and that couldn’t ever be denied. And besides, there wasn’t any malice behind it. Yan liked to roughhouse and so did Julian. Their “matches” also tended to mirror the state of their arguments, so in this case, Yan eventually allowed Julian to “pin” him while he made his point.

“We’re not the same. Alcohol is very different for us. We just get a little dizzy, maybe loosen up a little. Most of us have to drink a lot before it starts to hurt. But you…” Yan gave him an indulgent warning look, “I mean, the [People], are much more sensitive.” Julian wasn’t sure if Yan had heard that word before, but he was a good enough speaker nowadays that he could pick up words from the context. “Vemik had three beers and was rip-roaring drunk. Three beers barely gets me buzzed.”

Yan gave a thoughtful look while he chewed on those words, then rather effortlessly rolled over the top of Julian and pinned him by the simple expedient of laying on top of him chest to chest with a smug grin, arms pinned above his head with one hand and the other palming his skull and locking it in place. Carefully of course, because Yan was big enough to kill Julian with just his weight if he wanted to…but he wasn’t gentle, either. Julian had to struggle to breathe.

[“We aren’t so different, though. Very strange, yes…I think I am strange to you, too…”]

“Nngh. Sure.” Yan lifted some of his weight off of Julian to let him speak easier. “Ow. Anyway…yeah, we can use language. We see and hear much the same. We even think about things the same way. But our tribes, way deep down where it really counts…are different. That matters. Yan…you don’t have a nose. And there’s an organ in your belly that I don’t have and I don’t know what it does. Your heart doesn’t work the same way as mine and it’s way stronger, my liver can handle stuff that would shrivel yours like a dry fruit…we’re very different.”

“…Okay. I see. But this hunt, you need to See, Jooyun. How do we make happen?”

Yan’s statement quite obviously assumed that the hunt would go forward, and on his terms. To drive the point home about who was in control, Yan took advantage of the situation and turned his pin into a murderously tight full-body squeeze. There was a friendly grin attached to that, and Julian knew it was genuine…but. Having seen what Yan did to the werne earlier…

Julian tapped out with a very slightly panicked grunt; he couldn’t talk just that second. Yan trilled and roughed up Julian’s hair, then loosened up some to ask a question.

“You find way to make happen, yes?” Yan let go, sat up on his haunches, flexed his arms and admired the beachballs that were his biceps for a long moment, then looked Julian dead in the eye and snarl-grinned with an unmistakably knowing look. His expression was…almost friendly. There was no malice in it or anything…but.

Ah. That was as clear a statement as anything.

Which meant there was no way out. Julian was going to take some kind of hallucinogenic drug. The alternative was gravely insulting Yan by backing out and losing all his hard-earned reputation with the People. And that in turn would make more than a year of borderline agony under Adam’s coaching effectively pointless. It’d make their recent career moves risky, too. It could even permanently destroy Human-Ten’Gewek relations, and Ambassador Rockefeller would definitely not be happy about that.

This must be what duty feels like. An odd thought, really.

So, not really knowing what else would be right, Julian nodded to himself and took the plunge. [“I will make it happen, Yan Given-Man. I promise. I don’t know how yet, but…”]

That seemed to be all he wanted. Yan lumbered off of Julian and gently helped him to his feet. [“We do it right, Jooyun. I believe you.”] The moment turned into a back-shattering hug, and then Yan moved on to more important matters. [“Now. Before we do this, I want to see how you handle a spear. We’re going werne hunting.”]

“Wait, again? Right now?”

“Yes!” he said cheerily. “Need meat for smoking, young herd have too many calf.” The Ten’Gewek didn’t have much concept of a schedule or of planned-ahead events, and Yan in particular wasn’t one to remember little annoying details like a class on wound treatment. That was giving-magic and he couldn’t be any less interested.

And besides: Julian wasn’t about to argue with someone who was twice as big and over seven times his weight. If Yan wanted to go hunting, again, right now, that was how it was gonna be.

Maybe Julian would figure out a good way to break the news to his women.

Date point: 14y 1w 1d AV
FOB Farmstead, Three Valleys region, Gao

Specialist Michael Murphy

“Okay. I can’t even believe I’m doing this before I’m an NCO or anything…but we’re gonna start you guys out with drill.”

Michael really wasn’t even remotely qualified to do something like this. None of them were. But then again, nobody but maybe the Great Father was really qualified to do any of what they’d been doing for the last couple of days, and that included the raid. Holy God war was genuinely hell, and everyone Michael had ever internally sneered at about the whole thing had been totally, completely right.

And Daar was, too. Michael did do fine. Apparently. He’d made it through the night, anyway, despite being terrified out of his mind. Not that he actually really remembered much of the raid besides his little bit in it. Advance on the ag station under cover of darkness. The Stoneback Claw took point and stalked forward with nothing but their weapons—Gaoians apparently had excellent night vision—while Michael was assigned to the number three position right behind Daar and captain Landry.

It had taken literally hours on-foot to ingress, surround and position themselves around the ag station. Then they waited. And waited. And then—

Then things moved far, far too fast for Michael to really get. He remembered captain Landry, a smooth and calm engine of precision no matter what else was going on. One glance, one little motion and Michael knew exactly where to be, what to do. They moved from building after building while the rest of the team secured territory, each assault building on the other like a well-choreographed football play. Captain Landry must have been an amazing quarterback in his day.

And Daar was an entire offensive line all by himself, all speed and tooth, muscle and claw, a flowing graceful engine of death. At any moment the Great Father might have used his rifle and triple-tapped the drones, or if that wasn’t perfectly optimal maybe he’d move like an angry wolverine, too fast and far too strong for anything to stand against him. He’d crash into a drone so violently it’d practically explode, swipe his paw through another, spring up to his feet and fire his weapon, then leap four-pawed over an obstacle, and do it all so smoothly and perfectly it was like Michael was watching a kung-fu movie in real life.

Along the way they’d taken about a hundred biodrones out of the picture and rescued several hundred half-starving Gaoians who’d put up a hell of a fight at first. Daar didn’t want them dead. He wanted then secured alive and as unharmed as possible: not an easy task, it turned out. Everyday Gaoians really were fragile and Michael had damn near killed one with a tackle.

Anyway. All of that was two days ago. What they had to do now before Great Father Daar had to leave was get the basics of unit discipline in place.

“What is…[drill?”] One of the Clanless—god they were skinny—asked through the translator. It seemed an honest enough question, and Michael thought it deserved an honest answer.

“Moving and marching in formation. My drill sergeant said it came from ancient tactics back when we fought with, I dunno, muskets or spears or whatever. But it’s good for teachin’ teamwork.”

“We’re pretty good at teamwork already.” ‘Pinky,’ the albino that Michael had secured that first evening, felt the need to speak up.

“I don’t doubt it. I bet you ain’t got the kind of teamwork we need, though…”

Great Father Daar was sitting on his haunches some distance away and watching the proceedings very intently. He was much more intimidating when on he moved on all fours, and sitting like that made him look like a bear-sized, hulked out pit bull, poised and ready to pounce.

Michael tried not to think about that too much.

“So what’s the difference?”

That triggered an important memory. During basic training one of Michael’s fellows had asked that exact same question, and earned their entire platoon several hours of the most asinine drill he’d ever experienced in his military career.

Time to be on the other side.

“Maybe I should show you! Everyone, go and find a rock, a nice big one about the size of your head. I know there’s plenty of them here so make it quick. GO.”

To their credit they all scrambled to find what he’d asked for, which gave him the moment he needed. Michael loped over toward a rusted-out piece of ancient equipment, checked that it wasn’t full of bombs or terrorists or anything, then waved everyone over to the open space in front of it.

“Okay. First, we need you to line up in formation. We’ll show you what to do first. PLATOON, FALL IN.”

Captain Landry nodded approvingly from the corner with Daar while the rest of his group, amused by the specialist putting on airs, fell into a reasonable column.


They instantly snapped to attention, which prompted erect ears and tilted heads from the Gaoians. Good.

“Cover.” Michael directed them through that and the rest of the commands necessary to establish proper dress, cover and standard interval, arranged with the shortest men facing toward him.

“You see this? Gaoians, find a soldier and replace him. Don’t break my nice column!”

They didn’t. They even seemed to notice how the height was significant, and self-sorted appropriately.

“Good. STAND AT ATTENTION,” which surprised one young male so much he dropped his stone. “PICK THAT UP, AND STAND AT ATTENTION!”

He sorted himself out, eventually.

“Outstanding. Now. This formation has four columns. You are going to all side-step to the rhythm of my voice, and you’re going to do it like this. Watch.”

They did, then they obeyed, and before long the “platoon” was widely spread out.

“Okay. Now. Take the rock you have. Pick it up.” They did, at their individual pace. Michael’s fellow humans all knew what was coming and grinned, while Daar watched with keen interest.

“NOT FAST ENOUGH. You are in a FORMATION. You think and act as one. Now, drop— WHEN I SAY SO. Now STAND AT ATTENTION.”

Michael waited until they had come back to attention, then nodded at his best buds off to the side. They knew what to do. “Outstanding. Now, these friendly folks here are going to help correct any mistakes you might make in the next few hours. I might suggest you pay very close attention. They can be…impatient.”

Right on cue, his buds gave a nice, predatory grin. And so…they learned.

Fortunately, it didn’t take long. The Gaoians in their care had the synchronicity of it all figured out surprisingly fast, and before two hours had past they had them doing a pretty good first-time runthrough of basic drill. Now it was time to show them the point.

“DISMISSED. Now…let me show you the point of the rocks. Everyone…run up and throw your rock at this old piece of shit behind me. Take your time. Pretend it’s a Hunter, even!”

The Clanless had picked up on the spirit of the thing very quickly. Faster than a human would, but then again these weren’t sulky teenagers meeting randomly in Basic, taking orders for the first time in their lives. These Clanless all knew each other, had worked together for years.

That was probably worth noting. Looking at captain Landry, Michael had no doubt it had been.

The moment of play proved useful, too. They ran up, tossed the rock as lustily as they could manage—some even got creative. It was all good horseplay but the important bit, and the thing Michael had worried at, was that the rusted-out hulk had taken no real damage.

“Okay. Now if my fellow humans would get a rock from the pile, and then FALL IN!”

Again Michael went through the steps, and again he formed the platoon into columns.

“Now. See these fine men? I have the columns facing to the left. That means they are now ranks. And you see how I have them spread out?”

Recognition seemed to spread. But now was the moment to drive it home.

“Present, ARMS!” Everyone’s rock came up to shoulder level. “Ready…aim…THROW!” Dozens of rocks slammed into the hulk at virtually the same moment…and smashed it damn near flat. The point was not lost on anyone, especially Daar who chittered deep in his chest while talking excitedly with captain Landry.

“Right! So. Platoon, DISMISSED. Now,” he said as everyone meandered apart and re-mingled, “I suppose I’ve made my point? This is just a small little thing…and I’m just a specialist who lips off too much…” Michael’s sergeant nodded and rolled his eyes with a grin on his face, “But I ain’t dumb, and I do pay attention. And the thing I learned in all of my training? It’s that, for most of us, we’re individually not that big of a deal. Most of us can’t be HEAT operators or fighter pilots or Great Fathers or whatever…but all of us can use teamwork.”

He turned to look at the smashed-flat ruins of the hulk. “And if our training is good enough…that teamwork can do anything.”

Previous Chapter

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CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 14 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Frostal Secondary, New Baltimore Sitting down in the chair across from the Principal’s desk I nervously swallowed and tried to calm my heart. The Principal could probably hear it, and smell my perspiration. Which was only making me more nervous. “Thoomaas,” squeaked the principal from

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Sweetness – Love and Kiing (NSFW)

CopRit Empire, Halfil Sol 14 Of Race 4 Year 4958 Frostal Secondary, New Baltimore Sitting down in the chair across from the Principal’s desk I nervously swallowed and tried to calm my heart. The Principal could probably hear it, and smell my perspiration. Which was only making me more nervous. “Thoomaas,” squeaked the principal from

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 4

Date Point: 16y2m AV Hierarchy/Cabal Joint Communications session #1536 ++Asymptote++: I have bad news. It would seem our new drones are detectable. ++0004++: <Dismay> you’re certain? ++Asymptote++: The force I sent to Cimbrean was captured immediately upon arrival. ++0007++: How? ++Asymptote++: Unclear. The Arutech drones don’t report as concisely as conventional biodrones. The connection is…

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 3

Date Point: 16y2m AV The Thinghall, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Gabriel Arés Every civilization needed its icon of executive power. The UK had the black door of Number Ten Downing Street and, somewhere behind it, the Cabinet Room; the USA had the White House, and the Oval Office; Folctha had the Alien Palace. The

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Good Training – Survival Part 1

You may also want to read Pyrophytes in The Deathworlders series. Same story, different angles. Date point: 14y 7d AV Planet Akyawentuo, The Ten’Gewek Protectorate, Near 3Kpc Arm Professor Daniel Hurt “You want me to read it by next week?” Julian mopped the sweat from his face and bounced loosely in place. “What was it

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Rising Titans – Chapter 45

-7 Hours CHRONT THE CANADA “More contacts!” said Arik as she flashed every monitor on the bridge a bright red. Stagg glanced up at the monitor, “How many more?” “I’m counting!” “You’re counting!?” A grainy image of the approaching Empire patrol vessel was quickly displayed, a small box around it. Additional boxes quickly filled the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 2

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Leemu had become unresponsive. Nofl’s quarantine facility had alerted him after the patient had been anomalously still for twenty minutes, and the reason why became obvious upon a quick inspection of the cell: Leemu was sprawled on his back, staring blissfully up at

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Good Training – April Fool’s

13y 3m 29d AV One-Fang workhouse, Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Sergeant Regaari (Dexter) of Clan SOR One of the best things about the humans was that they had a springtime holiday dedicated to mischief. Before them, only the Gao could claim to celebrate such a thing and it was one of the

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 52: Autoimmune Part 1

Date Point: 16y2m AV Alien Quarter, Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Nofl Nofl’s lab was spacious, but inevitably finite. When it contained an alarming number of alarmed Humans, not to mention one particularly sculpted canine and a Gaoian brownie who was doing his best not to loom at everyone… well, there were times when Nofl

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 5

Date Point: 16y2m AV Folctha, Cimbrean, the Far Reaches Allison Buehler After a lifetime of helicopter parenting, Tristan and Ramsey seemed addicted to every opportunity they could find to do something their mother would have scooted them away from. And who could blame them? Amanda had never managed to get her head around the idea

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Rising Titans – Chapter 44

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Deep Space The Russia shuddered again as the engines slowly powered down and the ship slid out of the red blue haze that was the tachyon FTL corridor. James blinked several times trying to clear the haze from his eyes as the regular black background of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 4

Date Point: 16y1m AV Dataspace adjacent to Mrwrki Station Entity The Entity understood the concept of boredom in an academic, abstract way. It could even vaguely summon up Ava’s memories of being bored. But understanding the idea and actually feeling the emotion were two different things. The closest it could get was the sensation of

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 3

Date Point: 16y2w AV Air Force One, somewhere over Asia, Earth President Arthur Sartori “…You want to give us a Farthrow generator.” Daar’s image was janky and low-resolution thanks to the vagaries of current wormhole comms, but the audio was a lot clearer now. Technology marched onwards. “It’s loaded up on a train and ready

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Good Training – Pecking Order

13y, 8m AV Operator’s Barracks, HMS Sharman, Folctha, Cimbrean Officer Regaari (Dexter) of Clan Whitecrest “I got an idea, Regaari.” Regaari flicked his ears forward in annoyance. “This again?” “Well, yeah. I gotta win that bet, Cousin!” Regaari duck-nodded wearily. Not long after Daar had received the SACRED STRANGER briefing, he’d sulked off to think

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Good Training – The Champions – Tidying Up

Messier 24 Mission day: 3 Sergeant Daar (Tigger) The third day was always when things settled into routine. Daar didn’t really know why, ‘cuz that was prol’ly some complicated psychology stuff (maybe he should read up?) but he did know how it worked, practically speaking. Daar always pondered morning thoughts like that when he was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 2

Date Point: 16y2w AV Weaver dropship, Gaoian space Sergeant Ian “Hillfoot” Wilde “So in all the excitement, we clean forgot about these things. That’s what you’re telling me.” Champion Meereo made a sound that was half a sigh and half a chitter. “…That’s more-or-less exactly right, yes. We had… well, bigger priorities.” Wilde had to

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Rising Titans – Chapter 43

9 Years, 6 Months, 28 Days After Eridani Landing Bellona “Ready?” asked Alpha from where he sat on top of the Captain’s chair. “I’m good!” said Red from where he sat at the controls for the ship. It hadn’t taken much to convince him to pilot the vessel. James glanced down at his own console

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 51: Anticlimax Part 1

Date Point: 16y AV Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Zane Reid The cold didn’t hurt anymore. At first, it had been like forcing his way through a wall made of knives that cut through his clothes. Zane’s every breath had blinded him as it billowed and steamed in the air, and when he’d experimentally licked his

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 5

Date Point: 16y AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Snow. Of course, snow in January in Alaska was hardly surprising, and this one threatened to be heavy. At first, Hugh had thought it was probably just an seasonable dusting that’d add a couple of inches to the foot or

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I had made my way through the tournament, but most of my matches had been won by the skin of my teeth, and I had only the advantage of being evolved from a pursuit predator to thank for it. Our great endurance had been the one boon that had kept me going, and I was

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 4

Date Point: 15y 10m 1w AV HMS Violent, Rvzrk System, Domain Space The ground battle churned on for days. That was the problem with Hunters. There was no surrender involved, it was a kill-or-be-killed fight where smashing their will to engage in war simply didn’t achieve enough. Any Hunter left alive would just keep murdering

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 4

He awoke to a pleasant smell. “…Eggs?” Hoeff detangled himself from Natalie and the sheets and stumbled towards the kitchen. Daar was busy in front of the comparatively little stove and fridge, humming some terrible Gaoian tune to himself. Seriously, their music was like Chinese opera with extra pain. Some Humans liked it, though…but “atonal”

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Rising Titans – Chapter 42

9 Years, 6 Months, 15 Days After Eridani Landing The [Singer] The explosion hit and [Vann] watched at the lights on the main hologram and different panels flashed a blinding white light, before dying and plunging the entire bridge of the [Singer] into darkness. “What were we supposed to do?” asked someone near the weapons

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Day 1. I’ve made it on board the human trading vessel! They didn’t detect my presence, and I’ve managed to smuggle myself into their engineering bay, and disguised myself within a cluster of cables! My small, serpentine body makes me indistinguishable from a thin, grayish cable, and the Humans won’t notice my existence until it

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Trigger Part 1

Date Point: 15y 10m AV Camp Tebbutt Biodrone Internment Facility, Yukon–Koyukuk, Alaska, USA, Earth Hugh Johnson Camp Tebbutt wasn’t actually a bad place to live, if you didn’t count the fact that it was essentially a prison for innocent victims. Hugh understood why he was there, and why he couldn’t leave… but after eleven years,

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 3

Firth Regaari chittered, “It is difficult to imagine you ‘humbled,’ Righteous.” “Heh,” Firth chuckled. “You do know most of my attitude is straight fuckin’ bullshit, right? Adam and John know why.” Regaari looked over at John, who shrugged massively. “He’s a scary dude. Being ridiculous kinda takes the edge off, y’know?” Regaari duck-nodded. He was

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Rising Titans – Chapter 41

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Moving down the hallway Diana paused at the double doors, carefully she moved forwards into it’s threshold and they slid open. A woman in an orange smock looked up from her Comm for a moment, and then going back to look at it did a

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The Good Samaritan

I felt a white-hot pain in my back as I was stabbed. Once, twice and then three times. I fell to the ground clutching my new openings, and for a moment I couldn’t grasp what had just happened. I had walked through an alley as a shortcut back home, and then suddenly someone had grabbed

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 6

Date Point: 15y9m3w AV Mrwrki Station, Erebor System, Unexplored Space Darcy “Does it seem… different to you lately?” “What?” “The Entity. It’s actin’ different, dude, I swear it is.” Darcy sighed and set aside her work as Lewis sat down. She was sitting drinking a Moroccan Mint tea in the station’s rec lounge, with its

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Rising Titans – Chapter 40

9 Years, 6 Months, 13 Days After Eridani Landing Jikse Popping the restraints off of her legs Diana swung herself off of the table, the two class A’s still in their isolation suits were pounding at the door of the room the three of them were in. “It’s out! Open the door!” shouted the man

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Good Training – The Champions – Doom and Gloom Part 2

Master Sergeant Christian (Righteous) Firth The end of the movie came and the ladies were fast asleep and prolly too tired to head home with any comfort. The other bros were asleep, too, and Firth was tangled up with them pretty good. Oh well, both ‘Base and ‘Horse were heavy-ass sleepers and only danger or

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Hell. It’s a completely Human concept. The concept of a realm of eternal torture, to which you are sent depending on the whims of one deity or another, is something only found in Human fiction. And it’s not an isolated occurrence. Almost every human culture since the dawn of humanity itself has had it in

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The Deathworlders – Chapter 50: Counterattack – Homefront Part 4

Date Point: 15y9m2w AV HMS Sharman (HMNB Folctha), Cimbrean, The Far Reaches Senior Master Sergeant Christian (“Righteous”) Firth “Hey, fuckers! Guess what hit the newsstand today!” Adam looked up from his needlework for a second and raised an eyebrow. “Imma guess Coombes’ centerfold spread with Ava?” Firth deflated, somewhat flummoxed that ‘Horse had stolen his

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